The Human Factor at Work: Part One - In Praise of Social Skills

Human interactions rule our lives. Our social skills may be even more valuable than we realize. In a world where technological advances increasingly provide solutions and perform jobs, our social skills can increase or diminish our value at work.

I see this in companies where I work and provide coaching services. We take our social skills and our natural abilities to interact and work well together for granted. Most of us—professionals, employees and managers alike—undervalue our social skills. This is a short-sighted and less durable approach to outstanding performance.

“When people in an organization develop a shared and intuitive vibe for what’s going on in the world, they’re able to see new opportunities faster than their competitors, long before that information becomes explicit enough to read about in the Wall Street Journal. They have the courage of their convictions to take a risk on something new.” –Dev Patnaik, Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy (FT Press, 2009)

The term “information age” insufficiently captures our future professional landscape. We face unprecedented data streams, vast knowledge networks, and unknown problems.
Success hinges on how well we can work together in groups. CEOs recognize that teams are more productive, creative and valuable than individual workers—as long as team members work cohesively, using their finely honed social intelligence.

There’s a growing demand for relationship workers: people who are socially astute, no matter the field. As neuroscientist Michael S. Gazzaniga aptly states:
“Natural selection mandated us to be in groups in order to survive...that is how we are built. Without our alliances and coalitions, we die. It was true...for early humans. It is still true for us.”

Most of us assume our jobs cannot be taken over by a computer, but history and technological advances may prove us wrong. There are few skills computers cannot eventually acquire. Computing power doubles every two years, so more tasks can—and will—be handled by sophisticated algorithms, notes Fortune Magazine Senior Editor Geoff Colvin in Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will (Portfolio, 2015).

It may well be that those of us who develop our social skills to a higher level will have a competitive advantage in the future as automation and machine intelligence capabilities expand.

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you; you can reach me here, via email <valuableleadership {at}> and on LinkedIn.

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